The Psychology Of Revenge

Andrew Sullivan —  May 2 2011 @ 8:31pm

A study examined the Prisoner's Dilemma, in which two "criminals" are apprehended. If one rats the other out, they get a lowered sentence. The experiment then punished the "defectors" by electrically shocking them, to the approval of witnesses. Jonah Lehrer summarizes:

[W]e are engineered to get pleasure from punishing those who deserve to be punished.

He opines on Osama's ocean burial:

While such a disappearance might be less emotionally satisfying (at least for our dopamine neurons) than some bloody images of the revenge, I think it also helps to slow the downward spiral of tit for tat. As Gandhi famously said, “An eye for eye, and soon the whole world is blind.”

John Pavlus philosophizes on that odd end:

This isn’t justice as erasure, even though we did “rub him out.” This is something more abstract, and more quintessentially contemporary: justice as absence. The man has been disappeared. But so has his symbology, his meme, his brand. They’ll endure as memories and fixed images but (in all likelihood) won’t adapt or evolve — or at least, not in the same virulently powerful way.

Cliff Kuang parses the PR machinations:

What would happen if images of the actual killing surfaced? Would they become a rallying cry for Al Qaeda sympathizers — the terrorist's equivalent of those gruesome images of Neda Agha-Soltan, whose death, at the hands of state police, inflamed riots in Iran? And would they be grotesquely tacked up across the U.S., affixed to gates and telephone poles like the modern analogue of a head on a pike?